May 20th, 2018
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
So, who tuned in yesterday to the royal wedding? I’ve presided over enough wedding to never want to voluntarily see one ever again—ok, that’s not true. Especially since it seems like I missed a good one—and a good sermon. Weddings aren’t always known for their good sermons. I know I’ve preached some duds at weddings. So, out of professional curiosity, I guess I’ll say, I took a look at Bishop MichCurry’s sermon which was on the power of love. I recommend it, especially if this sermon fails to do anything for you.
But here’s the thing about that sermon, about that wedding, about that preacher. Bishop Michael Curry is the first African-American presiding bishop of the Episcopalian Church, which is the American branch of the Church of England. This in itself is remarkable, but even more remarkable when you think about it this way: when Jefferson Davis heard that Union Army was hot on his tail and had to flee the Confederate capital, he was sitting in church. He was an Episcopalian. Jefferson Davis betrayed his country so that he could enslave black people; now one of their descendants is the presiding bishop of his church. The British Empire was built, in part, on slavery, just as American prosperity and industrial might was built on slavery. The American factories needed cheap cotton from the South just like factories in Liverpool and Manchester did. But now a daughter of former slaves is in the royal family, and a son of former slaves preached about the love of God in Christ Jesus to what seems like every famous person in the world, from David Beckham to Oprah.
The church no longer looks as it did. As I wrote that last night I thought about how ridiculous it sounded. The church has never looked as it did. In its infancy, the church was primarily a Jewish movement. Over a few centuries it became predominantly Gentile, and predominantly made of people in what we would now call the Middle East. The backwards Christians lived in Europe. Over time the weight of the church shifted, and for a few centuries rested in Europe and the Americas. The Lutheran church, when it arose, was a northern European flavor of Christianity. But nowadays most Lutherans live neither in Europe nor in America. The majority of Lutherans live in Asia and Africa. Most Christians, as a matter of fact, come from what we call the Global South. And as our own northern populations decrease, we will see that weight shift more and more. And, as a matter o fact, nowadays, most people don’t go to church. In the generation that first had both cars and a weekend, church attendance ticked up—but then people gradually grew wealthy enough to find better things to do in their cars on the weekends, and they stopped having as many babies, and now—most churches face a very grim future. Even in the global south, in my experience, people are longing to stay away from church. And so we have to ask—Can these bones, these old church bones, live?
Maybe it’s because we are too focused on the church, and not, like God, on the world. This past week reminds us again of the hypocrisy of what I call performance Christianity—the royal wedding, in some ways, is precisely that, a demonstration of an old tradition of the divine right of kings. That’s why a real sermon blew up the news cycle—truth came to a performance and made it something else. But worse than that is the hypocrisy of our elected officials, who dare to say that their thoughts and prayers are with the victims of school shootings will continually failing to address the root cause of the problem, which is our idolatrous, evil, reprehensible, Satanic, and filthy faith in the power of guns. Texas, God bless it, is literally considering legislation of arming teachers. Never mind that the school shooter shot and disabled an armed guard. We live in a country in love with violence, that trusts in it, that yearns to exercise the power of violence, that feels safe by feeling dangerous. I ask you, can the bones of our nation live?
Today we receive into membership our Wayfarers and gather with them and our confirmands as they all affirm their faith. As we do it we renounce the devil, the forces of darkness, and the ways of sin. Our gathering here is a direct assault on the performance of Christianity. We have come here by the Holy Spirit to rest in the truth and the promises of God. We gather here to witness to the crucified Savior, our only true hope and comfort. We renounce all these evil forces together, and seek a new way of life that God leads and directs.
We must renounce this love of violence, this faith in guns. We can do it because the Spirit breathes over our dead bones and leads us into life. This hypocrisy is wrong; it is evil. We must name it and claim the rule of law and the power of the compassion of Christ. My kids, my confirmands, are too precious, too beautiful, too important for us not to do it.
Pentecost—we read every year that the people heard God speaking to them in their own languages. But this is because God spoke their hearts. Some hearts not only heard, but fell in love with God’s message. Some hearts heard, and were scornful or afraid. But the miracle of Pentecost is that God spoke to people as particular people, from particular times and places, with particular cultures and histories, as individuals who also figured in a history together. God has not stopped speaking to our hearts now. God speaks to us in the pain we feel—enough! Let these bones rise from the dead. Amen.
The Reverend John Flack